Amendments to the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting - Will They Really Bring Transparency?
Television ownership in Georgia remains opaque. Doubts remain about the potential impact of an amendment to the Law on Broadcasting, that was recently introduced to Parliament. A time-line of recent efforts to make media ownership transparent: On November 23, at the press conference held after the President’s speech at the European Parliament Assembly, Erzhi Buzek, the President of the European Parliament, praised the speech of the Georgian President and the reforms that have been implementing in Georgia but at the same time he pointed out that the main concern for Georgia still remains media freedom. Georgian journalists have been trying to identify and address the problems in media sector for a long time already. Back in 2008, Nino Zuriashvili, a journalist working for the independent television production company Studio Monitor did an investigative documentary on the lack of media ownership transparency in Georgia. The Georgian Press Association (GPA), a group of journalists and media activists, started developing on draft law on press distribution in early January 2010, after rumors circulated that individuals close to the government were aiming to monopolize the press distribution system in Georgia. The association submitted the draft law as legislative proposal to the Parliament in March 2010. In September, the GPA presented a package of eight draft laws that envisaged media ownership and financial transparency of media outlets, better access to public information, as well as changes the rules for issuing broadcast licenses. Most Georgian journalists seem to agree that a comprehensive and extensive reform effort is needed in order to address some of the shortcomings in the media sector. TI Georgia’s report on the state of television ownership in Georgia, published in November 2009, also drew international attention to the lack of transparency of media ownership and fueled a public debate about the need for better media regulation. Georgian government reacted to the attempts of journalists and civil society, as well as to rising pressure from the international community, in late October 2010. The Speaker of the Parliament announced that within two weeks a draft would be developed, making media ownership fully transparent. The members of the Georgian Press Association was eager to contribute to this drafting process. But on November 12, without consulting the activists who had developed a set of proposed legislative amendments over several months, the Parliamentary Majority submitted an amendment to the Law on Broadcasting to Parliament. On the very same day the GPA submitted the legislative proposal to the Parliament, the ruling United National Movement party introduced their own draft amendments to the Law on Broadcasting. On November 24, National Democratic Institute (NDI) organized a meeting of Parliamentary Legal Issues Committee chair and deputy chair, the authors of the new draft law, with local NGOs and journalists to discuss the changes they proposed. During the meeting, media activists, journalists and NGO representatives suggested to make transparent not only the ownership of broadcast media, but also its financing. Once again, the need for comprehensive approach to the problem was highlighted. They also criticized Article 37 of the new draft law, under which entities registered in "off-shore" locations would still be allowed to hold up to ten percent of a Georgian TV channel. (Georgia has a history of straw men acting as official owners of television stations, while the editorial policy is strictly dictated by others.) However, the Members of Committee were not willing to change their view. On November 26, Parliamentary Legal Issues Committee members met with the Tbilisi diplomatic corps and on November 28 they met with the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman, in line with NGOs and journalists, stated his support to ban off-shore ownership of television outlets. On November 29, the Christian Democrats in Parliament stated its readiness to introduce the draft laws developed by the GPA as their legislative initiative to the Parliament. We at TI Georgia will continue to monitor and also contribute to the drafting process of better broadcast media regulation that will finally publicly disclose the actual owners of Georgia's most influential television outlets.